Living Room Conversations is a new, open-source project exploring the power of revitalized civil discourse in America. It provides a platform for people to come together through social networks to engage in a self-guided conversations about a specific topics.
We want to work with you to expand and explore the possibilities of this project. Living with the negative consequences of the polarized dynamics that currently pervade our society oppresses all of us. It is time to unleash the potential for heartfelt conversation to transform distrust into understanding and enable a search for collaborative solutions to the many challenges we face together. Our intent is to transform our private conversations and, ultimately, our public conversations.
Mark Meckler, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots ~ "I am enthusiastic champion for Living Room Conversations because over the last several years I've come to realize that the largest divide in this country is not between the citizens of one party or another, but between the citizens and the Ruling Elite in Washington, DC and the state capitols. Those in power want us to hate each other, neighbor against neighbor, city against city and state against state. They like conservatives to hate liberals, Democrats to hate Republicans and they want us hating each other over any issue where they can foment discord. They do this because it is profitable for them. While the majority of Americans say that Washington, DC and government in general are broken, the majority of those in office think things are working well because they gain money, power and prestige from the division they sow. The status quo does not serve the people of this country, and Living Room Conversations is a critical step in helping people to see that they have a lot in common with those they've been told by the politicians and the media that they should hate. Only by learning to respect each other, and work together in this way is real change possible."
Parker J. Palmer (author of "Healing the Heart of Democracy" and founder and Senior Partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal) ~ "American democracy was founded with the words "We the People." When we can't talk with one another with respect across our lines of difference, democracy suffers. Civil discourse is not merely about watching our tongues or minding our manners. It's about valuing our differences and the insights that can come from a dialogue of differences, which help us forge a rough consensus on the "common good" and hold our elected leaders accountable to it. I value the Living Room Conversations project because it "puts wheels" on all these ideas and creates vehicle in which we can move together toward "a more perfect Union."
Van Jones ~ "Living Room Conversations highlight substantial common ground around the need to reform our criminal justice system. We have a moral imperative to fix the broken system. Living Room Conversations are a powerful tool for empowering local communities and for overcoming partisan dysfunction as we tackle these challenges."
Jacqueline Salit – President, IndependentVoting.org ~ "Living Room Conversations brings Americans together to create new kinds of political conversations. I see them as small scale models for a more developed political culture, something we desperately need. Independent voters don’t like partisanship or the politics of “party uber alles.” We’ve done Living Room Conversations in San Francisco and Philadelphia and the process of coming together was as powerful as or more powerful than the particular outcomes. There is growing consensus that changing the political “rules of the game” in a nonpartisan direction is the way out of the divide. Living Room Conversations is an important building block for that."
Eric Liu, founder of Citizen University ~ "Citizenship begins at home - literally. That's why I'm proud to be a partner of Living Room Conversations. By bringing people together across partisan divides for simple human-scale interactions in living rooms and similar spaces, Living Room Conversations forces us to treat each other with courtesy, to listen to each other with respect, and to develop some empathy for those with whom we may - even after the conversation - disagree strongly. Conversation by conversation, this is a powerful way to practice the art of being a citizen."
Erik Fogg - In school, Erik bailed from mechanical engineering to pursue his passion: political science. He hasn't looked back since. He's been blogging and writing essays on improving American democracy since he was young, but his greatest influence for launching Something to Consider was his realization that those that disagreed with him had much more to teach him than those that already agree. He believes everyone can adopt this mindset and become hungry to learn from each other in political dialogue.
Audrey Addison Williams, founder and president of Healing Soul of America, Inc. ~ "Living Room Conversations is as powerful as the simplicity in which it is grounded. It is a brilliant concept, deeply grounded in an understanding of American culture, that cuts across ethnicity, political affiliation, class, religion, gender identification and race. We Americans are usually respectful of a guest in our home. When you are a guest in our home, you cease to be the villain or the enemy. You are our guests."
Elisa Batista, bilingual journalist and award-winning blogger ~ "Social media tools plus in-person meetings like the Living Room Conversations have the potential to transform our democracy for the better. They allow for anyone, regardless of background and political affiliation, to come together to be more involved in our civil and political processes -- and to work together for the betterment of our country."
Liz Joyner, co-founder of The Village Square: "With the immense, twisted, enduring dysfunction we see every day in our political dialogue - the kind of dysfunction that makes negotiating solutions to pressing civic problems impossible - it may be surprising that part of the solution seems remarkably simple: we've got to talk with each other again. In the past, across-the-aisle relationships were a part of our everyday lives - in our neighborhoods, civic clubs, churches - even bowling leagues. But demographic trends and technology have us spending our time with the people who think just like we do, and we no longer seem to have the ability - and willingness - to reach across differences to solve problems. Rather than waiting around for Washington to fix this, Living Room Conversations revives the spirit of American democracy at its true center - in hometowns, between neighbors, in your living room. In a country where we aspire to government of the people, by the people, and for the people, perhaps that is as it should be."
Joan Blades - founding partner of Living Room Conversations, co-founder of MomsRising.org & MoveOn.org as well as co-author of The Custom-Fit Workplace: Choose When, Where and How to Work and Boost the Bottom Line & The Motherhood Manifesto. Trained as an attorney/mediator, 10 years as a software entrepreneur and always a nature lover, she is also an artist, mother and true believer in the power of citizens & our need to rebuild respectful civil discourse and embrace our core shared values.
A. Lawrence Chickering - Living Room Conversations project partner is founder of Educate Girls Globally (EGG), which has developed a powerful model for promoting girls' education in the most difficult, tribal parts of rural India and will soon expand to Africa. EGG partners with governments to reform government schools and is now in more than 5,000 schools serving about 700,000 children, developing the model in the most male-dominated regions without significant conflict or opposition. Lawry has written two books on a transpartisan politics (Beyond Left and Right, 1993; and, with James S. Turner, Voice of the People: The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life, 2008). His work spanning more than twenty years focuses on empowering citizens in public spaces, and he is currently writing two new books: one (with James S. Dierke) on reforming government schools in India and the U.S.; and the other on strategies for using civil society initiatives to support foreign and security policy -- both powerful transpartisan issues.
Debilyn Molineaux - Managing Partner of Living Room Conversations, is a transformation partner. She works with visionaries and movements in support of a new national and global social contract focused on personal dignity and sovereignty. Her work highlights the relationships between individuals, institutions and governments for conscious transformation. She is the Managing Partner for Living Room Conversations, President of Coffee Party USA and Co-Director for Bridge Alliance, representing micro to macro to system approaches.
Jacob Hess, president of All Of Life ~ "I am a die-hard fan and champion of Living Room Conversations because I am tired of relentless media soundbytes holding more power over the American mind than the actual stories, lives and experiences of our next door neighbors. While the current socio-political environment in the U.S. certainly calls for many kinds of changes, I'm convinced there is one exceedingly simple place to start: Convening with people around us - in our own homes - and hearing them out deeply and fully. When I have done that, as I have done that, something has changed in me. And I can't go back! (And why would I want to...having these conversations is way too fun!!)"
Ralph Benko serves as senior advisor, economics, for the American Principles Project. He is an internationally syndicated political columnist, and member of the Conservative Action Project. Ralph is editor-in-chief of The Supply Side, and, with Charles Kadlec, author of The 21st Century Gold Standard: For Prosperity, Security, and Liberty, and lead co-editor of the Laissez Faire Books edition of Copernicus's Essay on Money. Ralph wrote The Websters' Dictionary: how to use the Web to transform the world, which won the Trophée du choix des Internauts from the World e-Democracy Forum, 2010, Paris, France. Ralph was the editor of The Lehrman Institute's gold standard website, for which he was nominated as nonprofit blogger of the year in 2014 by the National Bloggers Club. Ralph was detailed as a deputy general counsel in the Reagan White House; founded the Prosperity Caucus; and was a member of the original Supply Side movement of which Jack Kemp was principal. Washington Post Magazine columnist Gene Weingarten called him "the second most conservative man in the world." Follow him, if you dare, on Twitter @TheWebster.
John Gable, Founder and CEO of AllSides, offers a unique combination of technology and politics. John served on the original teams for Microsoft Office, Mozilla at Netscape, and ZoneAlarm at Check Point Software, and co-founded Kavi Corp (web-based collaboration and services). John was previously a Republican operative, working for three Senator Majority Leaders (Howard Baker, Trent Lott, Mitch McConnell), the Republican National Committee, and George Bush '41.
Carla Goldstein, JD, is Omega Institute’s chief external affairs officer and cofounder of the Omega Women's Leadership Center dedicated to inspiring and training women to #DoPowerDifferently. As CEAO of the nation's premier holistic learning center she speaks, teaches, and writes regularly on the need for a transformational framework for social change that evolves beyond the limits of oppositional activism. Prior to joining Omega a decade ago, Carla spent 25 years in public interest advocacy, working extensively in city and state government on issues related to women’s rights, poverty, public health, and criminal and social justice. She blogs for Omega on Huffington Post, Feminist.com, MomsRising, It's Time Network, WAMC 51% Roundtable and serves on a number of advisory boards advancing women's rights around the world.
Mary Gaylord is a Program Development Partner with Living Room Conversations. She has worked as a community mediator, victim-offender reconciliation specialist, and facilitator of bully prevention programming for school-aged children. A chronic idealist, Mary has a strong passion for supporting individuals and organizations that endeavor to make our world a better place. She lives in the Rocky Mountains with her husband and two children and is passionate about spending time outdoors with family and friends.
Mary Jacksteit, JD, MS - Living Room Conversations project partner. Mary has been a practitioner for over twenty years in dialogue, deliberation and dispute resolution with an overarching interest in how this work can contribute to community-building and depolarizing our society. She works with non-profits, religious organizations, community groups and government. She is an Associate of the Public Conversations Project as well as a private practitioner and a resolver of labor-management disputes in her capacity as member and chair of the Federal Service Impasses Panel. In the past she directed two different US-based projects at Search for Common Ground.
John Steiner, transpartisan networker and leader ~ "Living Room Conversations is slowly and carefully reweaving the torn fabric of our American democracy one conversational strand at a time. If we can’t talk to each other with civility, respect, and dignity, then we certainly can’t work together at any level of our society to solve the profound and daunting challenges we face. Living Room Conversations becomes a template for our citizens and leaders alike."
Amanda Kathryn Roman – founding partner of Living Room Conversations, now on the advisory council. Amanda has nearly 20 years of experience inspiring and building broad coalitions and leading teams with diverse stakeholders. Amanda’s passionate pursuit of service has taken her throughout all 50 states and led to a decade in Washington, D.C. She has extensive on-the-ground experience which has taught her that for many, the missing piece is finding common ground. Amanda is dedicated to fostering constructive and cooperative solutions for our country and our communities through her firm, AKR Collaborations. In her free time, Amanda enjoys spending time with her husband and two children, exploring the great outdoors and reading as well as hosting potluck dinners and Texas Hold ‘em poker games for her friends.
Monica Walsh is a Non‐Profit Consultant specializing in business strategy, fundraising, donor relations and sustainability. With extensive experience in building strategy and brand for the health and sustainability of an organizations, she has worked with groups like The Democracy Fund, United Cerebral Palsy of North Bay, Center for Environmental Health to name a few. She has also helped luminaries like Lawrence Lessig and Joan Blades to launch organizations. She grew Lessig’s Change Congress organization from half a million in the first year to almost four million in year three. Monica is effective at building strategic relationships that align with mission and have lasting impact for the organizations she serves. In the early 1990’s she also worked on the Clinton/Gore campaign for President and served in various capacities in the first Clinton Administration. She has a BA in Political Science and Communications from St. Mary’s University.
Michael D. Ostrolenk, a social entrepreneur, is a leading expert in the field of transpartisan public policy. He has successfully convened policy initiatives in the areas of transparency, privacy, defense, foreign policy and national security Michael co-founded and serves as National Director of the Liberty Coalition, a transpartisan coalition of groups working to protect civil liberties, privacy and transparency. A radio host and public speaker, Michael has authored numerous articles appearing in a variety of publications ranging from USA Today to The American Conservative Magazine. He is the Program Director and Master Coach for SEALFIT‘s Unbeatable Mind Academy a world-class leadership and personal development training program created by Navy SEALs.
LIVING ROOM CONVERSATIONS PILOT (May 2010 - June 2011)
In late 2010, Joan Blades partnered with the team of dialogue experts at Changing the Game (1) to create a structured intimate conversation format to empower every day citizens to have conversations about important issues with friends that had differing political affiliations. The theory was that if two friends with different views each invited two of their friends to join this structured conversation with full disclosure about the intent and structure of the conversation, they could create a safe space for respectful and meaningful exchange of ideas, new relationships would develop and common ground might be found.
By early 2011, the Living Room Conversations Pilot revealed that the Living Room Conversations structure worked! All the observed Living Room Conversations (LRC), as well as a couple of independent conversations about energy/climate, were successful. LRC participants were anxious at the outset but discovered they had respectful conversations that revealed common ground. In fact, we have heard about ongoing meaningful relationships that were seeded in these early LRCs. We also learned that it would be better for a first Living Room Conversation across partisan lines on this topic to focus on energy only; climate is an issue that has become a partisan flag. Read the Report from the Pilot Project here.
LIVING ROOM CONVERSATIONS PROJECT (July 2011 - July 2013)
Inspired by the success of the pilot, Amanda Kathryn Roman and Joan Blades launched www.livingroomconversations.org as Founding Partners forming a right-left political partnership and advisory board to work together to help make the Living Room Conversations format available to individuals and organizations around the country. Their dream and hope was to empower communities to begin to reweave the fabric of our civil society demonstrating that respectful conversation can enrich our lives and enable us to create better solutions to all the challenges we face together. Early adoptors - individuals and organizations - had conversations about the role of government, money in politics, immigration, gay marriage and more. In 2013, our first high profile conversation on crony capitalism co-hosted by Mark Meckler of Tea Party Patriots and Joan Blades of MoveOn identified the need for criminal justice reform as one of a number of areas of solid common ground for further discussion and future collaborative action. In July, Founding Partner, Amanda Kathryn Roman, moved from managing day to day operations for the Living Room Conversations Project to the Advisory Council.
LIVING ROOM CONVERSATIONS EXPERIMENT (July 2013 to current)
Living Room Conversations are evolving and we are continuing to experiment. We have a growing list of champions who speak about Living Room Conversations or use them in their work as well as a growing number of partners who are working to develop and use the Living Room Conversations in large and small ways, based on our open-source philosophy. We have discovered that starting with a conversation where participants with different view points have known shared interests and goals makes for particularly rewarding first conversations when working together is a goal. We are learning new uses for the Living Room Conversations model too.
Contra Costa County Community Living Room Conversation Partners adapted the materials to host a Community Living Room Conversation that brought together mental health professionals, patients and family members. We see that being of service to groups that want to build diverse community engagement on issues has great potential. While initially designed as a tool to build our relationships across political divides (which it does), Living Room Conversations are also being used to bring understanding and community to groups with other types of divisions.
An opportunity to act upon the common ground uncovered on criminal justice reform arose mid 2013 in partnership with Californians for Safety and Justice. In 2012, California law changed so that now convicted non-violent, non-serious, non-sex offenders stay in county rather than go to state prison. We are organizing conversations for Fresno and San Joaquin counties to have Living Room Conversations about how to best manage this new population in their midst. We aspire to empower local residents - business, faith and school communities along with law enforcement, people that have been in the criminal justice system and other interested parties to talk together about how to make their community safer and more successful.
2013 is also the year when the dialogue and deliberation community has stepped forward to organize mental health conversations around the country with 10 large facilitated conversations are planned. Using the facts provided for the large conversations, Living Room Conversations are being seeded in communities around the country so everyone can participate. We are excited that Debilyn Molineaux returned to Living Room Conversations as Managing Partner.
CONTINUING THE EXPERIMENT
We look forward to developing and sharing materials for more issue areas as well as creating a virtuous cycle of online to offline community building as we learn from each other and support each other in becoming a more respectful civil society.
(1) Changing the Game was co-founded by Peter Hwosch, Debilyn Molineaux, Walt Roberts and Amanda Kathryn Roman. Changing the Game team members that worked on Living Room Conversations included Debilyn Molineaux, Walt Roberts, Amanda Kathryn Roman and Heather Tischbein.
Mediators Foundation is the fiscal sponsor for Living Room Conversations. We appreciate their support and encouragement in our work.